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Spitzer linked to prostitution

By Tom Precious - News Albany Bureau
Updated: 03/10/08 4:06 PM

With his wife by his side, Gov. Eliot Spitzer apologizes for a "private matter" today.

ALBANY -- Gov. Eliot L. Spitzer, who came to office promising to change the ethical ways of Albany, has been caught up in a prostitution ring -- a move that may cost him his governor's post.

In a brief appearance before reporters this afternoon in Manhattan, he apologized to his family, and added, "I apologize to the public, whom I promised better."

Spitzer did not mention a report in the New York Times of his involvement in a high-end prostitution ring, which federal prosecutors recently broke up.

The governor described his actions as a violation of his sense of "right and wrong," and that he "failed to live up to the standard I expected for myself."

Spitzer, 48, who is married to Silda Wall Spitzer and has three daughters, took no questions from reporters. "I must now dedicate some time to regain the trust of my family -- I will report back to you in short order." Standing next to him was his upset looking wife.

Spitzer did not answer a barrage of reporters shouting questions asking if he would resign. But in his brief remarks, he said, "We promised to bring real change to New York."

The news hit Albany like a tsunami. The governor, whose sudden cancellation of appearances today in Albany churned the rumor mill, informed his top aides of the matter this morning, according to the New York Times.

A law enforcement official told the Associated Press that Spitzer's involvement in a prostitution ring was caught on a federal wiretap.

The official says Spitzer is identified in court papers as "Client 9," and the wiretap was part of an investigation that opened in the last few months.

The official says the New York governor met last month with at least one woman in a Washington hotel. The law enforcement official spoke on condition of anonymity because of the ongoing investigation.

Last week, federal prosecutors in Manhattan filed conspiracy charges against four people accusing them of running a prostitution ring that charged wealthy clients in Europe and the U.S. thousands of dollars for prostitutes.

The Web site of the Emperors Club VIP displays photographs of the prostitutes' bodies, with their faces hidden, along with hourly rates depending on whether the prostitutes were rated with one diamond, the lowest ranking, or seven diamonds, the highest. The most highly ranked prostitutes cost $5,500 an hour, prosecutors said.

Spitzer has built his political legacy on rooting out corruption, including several headline-making battles with Wall Street while serving as attorney general. He stormed into the governor's office in 2006 with a historic share of the vote, vowing to continue his no-nonsense approach to fixing one of the nation's worst governments.

Time magazine had named him "Crusader of the Year" when he was attorney general and the tabloids proclaimed him "Eliot Ness."

But his stint as governor has been marred by several problems, including an unpopular plan to grant driver's licenses to illegal immigrants and a plot by his aides to smear Spitzer's main Republican nemesis.

Spitzer had been expected to testify to the state Public Integrity Commission he had created to answer for his role in the scandal, in which his aides are accused of misusing state police to compile travel records to embarrass Senate Republican leader Joseph Bruno.

When he was attorney general, Spitzer's office was involved in breaking up prostitution rings.

The news comes after a turbulent first year in office for the governor, who in the past challenged the morality and ethics of state lawmakers for opposing him on policy disputes.

Even in a town where sex scandals are hardly rare, this one involving the governor has widespread implications, including the Democrats' attempt to take over control of the state Senate from Republicans.

It is unclear whether the governor's involvement with a prostitution ring will cost him his job. If he is forced to resign, Lt. Gov. David Paterson would take over.

It also is unclear precisely what the governor's involvement with the prostitution ring may have been, though it comes less than a week after federal prosecutors in New York broke up a pricey prostitution ring that provided services to clients from New York and Paris to Washington.

The legal problems facing Spitzer come as the outside business dealings of Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno is being probed by the FBI.

A state ethics agency and the Albany County district attorney's office, meanwhile, is investigating possible violations of state rules and laws for a scheme last year by the Spitzer administration to smear Bruno with the assistance of the State Police.

The Associated Press contributed to this report